Big Data and Artificial Intelligence for Conservation

13 February 2018

Within a month of its launch, the African Wildlife Poisoning Database (AWPD) recorded 300 incidents of poisoning of wildlife which killed more than 8000 animals belonging to 40 species in 15 African countries.

Illegal wildlife trafficking is the fourth most lucrative global crime after drugs, humans and arms and is estimated to be about USD 7 – 23 billion each year.

On August 13, 2017, Ecuadorian coast guards intercepted the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, a vessel with 300 tons of fish, including the largest catch of illegally caught sharks in history.

Micronesia used big data to draw up coral reef management system, recently, that is expected to provide data and information in improving fish catch and designating the marine protected areas.

The WWF compiled a number of information and data tools for better management of ecosystems, including assessment of contributions of ecosystems to human well-being.

The Community Rating System (CRS) in the USA has been developed to enhance participation in the National Flood Insurance Program’s CRS program to identify current and future open space preservation credit opportunities that translate to reduced flood insurance rates.

All of these point to great strides being made in conservation science and practice. Data and information are paving the way for a great revolution in governance of our natural resources. Combined with big data analytics and internet of things (IOT), artificial intelligence is now a significant area of research for conservation enthusiasts.

However, none of these tools and advancements find a place in formal discussions and negotiations to move the global conservation agenda through multilateral processes.

With less than two-years left to achieve the global Aichi Biodiversity Targets that were set by 195 countries under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for the period 2011-2020, indications are that many of the targets may not be met.

Discussions have already started to develop a new strategic plan for the CBD (2021-2030)and to link conservation action with the Sustainable Development Goals under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

How can be bring the advancements of science to conservation is a key question.

Here are three options:

  1. Ensure the new conservation agenda and negotiations under the CBD fully and inclusively consider the role of data revolution and use of artificial intelligence in deciding on future biodiversity goals;
  2. Let Parties to the CBD understand that no government action and policy can meaningfully contribute to conservation unless work related to science-policy-practice interface is established, used and mainstreamed into their actions – irrespective of the sector from which the work emanates, and
  3. Let the CBD COP 14 and COP 15 meetings as well as similar governing body meetings of key conservation and development platforms consider the relevance of investing in technology to ensure future of conservation does not merely end up in a series of conversations.


The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the GGKP or its Partners.

Chair, IUCN-CEC Specialist GroupInternational Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Advisory Board Member